Welcome to What Would They Play?
I'm Charlie, I'm a storyteller, creative writer, and author; I usually handle the historical sections of the articles.
And I'm Dan, a Commander player who is obsessed with building thematic decks. I connect the stories to Magic cards to create decks that reflect the vibrant tales of the past.
We take famous or not-so-famous figures from history and make Commander decks based on their lives, philosophies, and histories.
Our articles are meant to be part history lesson, part deckbuilding guide. We believe that decks can be expressions of personal philosophies, so a fun way to learn about historical figures -- and flavorful brews -- would be to speculate about what sort of Commander deck a given person would play, given their times, opinions, and philosophies.
It's like a history class, only using the medium of Magic: The Gathering.
Who was Jacinto Canek? (1731 to 1761)
José Jacinto Uc de los Santos Canek Chichan Moctezuma was an Itza Maya prophet and revolutionary who led a notable rebellion against Spanish oppression in 1761 with wide-reaching consequences in Mexico and the Yucatán.
At various times, Jacinto was a pupil at a Franciscan monastery (he didn't have the right temperment to be a monk and was kicked out for defiance), a baker, and a wanderer. Jacinto chafed at the Spanish authorities and their heavy-handed use of force and exploitation on the native Maya. The Franciscans were one of the major engines of settler-colonialism in the Yucatán; perhaps their most famous Franciscan in the Yucatán was de Landa, who was solely responsible for the burning of the vast majority of Maya written records centuries earlier. So when I say "Franciscan monks" in the context of the Maya, think less "humble men of god" and more "brown-robed slave-drivers and exterminators of everything related to the Maya culture". To say nothing of the heavily exploitive encomedia system that ensured backbreaking physical labor, high taxation, a staggering amount of racism and casual violence... it was a very bad time to be a native Maya in the Yucatán.
Ixalan's Merfolk draw heavy inspiration from the Maya, so we wanted to use a Merfolk commander for Jacinto's deck. Jacinto's life is a story of prophecies, shifting identity, and legends, appropriate for an enchantment-themed deck. That's why we selected as Jacinto's commander.
Because most of the sources on Jacinto come from the Spanish language and were written after his rebellion against the Spanish, we have very little information on Canek's thought process or the actual journey from dispossessed to revolutionary that isn't heavily focused on discrediting him and Maya liberation.
What we do know is that he wandered the Yucatán and eventually chose a town called Cisteil for the nucleus of his rebellion against the Spanish in November 1261.
Some Background on the Maya Up to 1761
Short version: When the Spanish conquest of central America began, the highly centralized and militarized Mexica empire was overthrown within two years1, the last of the Maya tribes (the Itza2) took just short of two hundred years to subdue.
There were a number of reasons for this: the famously unfavorable terrain for set-piece battles, the decentralized nature of the Maya civilizations, the lack of stickiness of Spanish culture on the Maya they did manage to conquer, to say nothing of temperature and disease. And, according to historian Inga Clendinnen, even worse as far as the Spanish were concerned: there was no vast vein of gold or other resources in the Yucatán.
Clendinnen continues writes: "By 1535 [a decade plus after the fall of Tenochtitlan] there were no Spaniards on the Yucatán Peninsula...it was not until 1540 that the Maya found themselves again under foreign invasion...they [the Spanish] knew that the country held no promise of treasure...the enslavement and export of its native population seemed the most promising road to profit."
Even in the face of the Spanish's imperialist advance, the Maya fought, sabotaged, and retreated, but it quickly became a war of attrition. Eventually, the other kingdoms fell. The Itza Maya held out the longest against Spanish imperialism.
Jacinto's deck includes a variety of Auras that represent the tenacity of the Maya people and allow for a game of attrition., , and can keep the same creature coming back again and again. , , and umbras, like , keep Tuvasa or another creature from dying in the first place. dodges all kinds of removal with the added bonus of retriggering Auras' enter-the-battlefield and Constellation abilities.
As a Maya stronghold, Yucatán has historically been a place whose indigenous people have fought to defend their way of life in the face of an aggressive Spanish colonialism and subsequent centralization of the state (in which Yucatán is considered peripheral, both culturally and geographically). Mexican historian Pedro Bracamonte y Sosa identifies two main ideologies that Mayas used when confronting colonization efforts in Yucatán: a) open relations, political alliances, and agreements between social groups that would allow for co-existence and an increased political and territorial autonomy for the Mayas, and b) a closed, traditional form of uni-ethnic Maya governance that implies an escape to the mountain and separation between social groups. This second form of resistance is oftentimes associated with the Itza Mayas who, after migrating throughout Yucatán, settled in the jungles of the Petén region of northern Guatemala. This Maya group has been considered the "last, untamed Maya kingdom" which had "avoided Spanish domination for almost two centuries... and provided sanctuary for fugitives from Yucatán".
Jacinto Uc (he hadn't taken his revolutionary names yet), was a descendant of the Itza Maya. He came of age within living memory of the fall of the last independent Maya kingdom, a fact that shaped his life and worldview irreversibly.
Sticking it to the Debt-Collector
Jacinto Canek made himself deeply popular in the town of Cisteil, starting by insulting the local priest, which won most of the town over to his side within a few weeks. He may have also considered killing the priest, but ultimately decided against it as it was far too soon for that sort of thing.
As often things happen, the Maya rebellion Jacinto envisioned kicked off much earlier than intended. It sometimes helps to have culture on your side when raising a rebellion, and this Jacinto Canek did indeed have. Maya culture did indeed have religious and calendrical texts that could be used for the cause of social revolution; specifically, prophecies of driving out invaders by a charismatic leader. Jacinto knew them and drew on them to spread the flames of discontent, not that anyone was happy with the standard Spanish "exploit/rape/beat/enslave the people to death" governing technique.
Plus, a bunch of people treating your whole culture as subhuman for generations will generate more than just a tiny grudge. Jacinto was still planning his rebellion when a Spanish debt collector, Diego "I have the worst fucking timing in the ENTIRE Yucatán" Pacheco, came to town, looking to, well, collect on debts.
And said so, too.
Quick show of hands: who has ever been happy to see a debt collector? That's what I thought.
Pacheco's presence was deemed intolerable, and Jacinto ordered him executed immediately, which he was. The whole town was behind Jacinto and for sticking it to the Spanish... except the town choirmaster, who slipped off to go narc on the Maya to the Spanish (choirmasters, am I right?).
Jacinto's rallying of the Maya people is represented in his deck, like in the Ixalan expansions, with a Merfolk kindred element, with, , and pumping up Tuvasa and each other. Merfolk with hexproof, like and the tokens produced by and , work especially well with the Aura theme of this deck. Evasion-granting Merfolk, like and , are also helpful for getting a heavily enchanted Tuvasa through for commander damage. even lets Jacinto use any Aura as a .
Jacinto Uc Becomes Jacinto Canek: Names and Prophecies
In the fervor of the moment, Jacinto changed his name (according to one source; other sources are unclear on the sequence of when Jacinto decided to change his name, and for the sake of the article's structure I'll choose to use this this version).
He went from Jacinto Uc to José Jacinto Uc de los Santos Canek Chichan Moctezuma as a way of breaking from his former life and declaring his revolutionary intent. To go all the way, as it were.
If some of his names look familiar to you, it's because Jacinto (originally born Jacinto Uc, 1731, City of Campeche in Merida3) took names from famous leaders of native resistance leaders against the Spanish colonization of central and south America.
You may recognize the reference to Montezuma II of the Mexica, and Chichan is another Maya word; again, according to Tun, it means "little" and is a diminutive modifier (different from the word "chichen" as in "Chichen Itza"). The name Canek/Kan Ek is an Itza royal title and a reference, according to Tun, "to the last independent mayor of the Itza Maya"; a rough translation of this term would be 'snake-star'. Said last independent mayor's last name also fit into a prophecy that the last king of the Maya would drive out all invaders.
The way Jacinto borrowed names from the bygone heroes of his culture is reminiscent of the disturb creatures from Innistrad: Crimson Vow that return as Auras. By adopting their names, he added their stories to his own, much like a fallen, , or can lend their powerful abilities to surviving creatures. Bestow creatures have a similar flavor, though the chronology is reversed with them being Auras first and then creatures. Nevertheless, Jacinto's deck includes a few, like and .
Jacinto's choice of name was hardly accidental: it was a full out declaration of intent, of war, of social revolution.4
Taking the Crown
Knowing that imagery was important, Jacintousing the crown from the local statue of the Virgin Mary, and not a moment too soon. While killing debt collectors is definitely something worth doing, what Pacheco's death (and subsequent choirmaster-based snitchery) had done was set off the rebellion way earlier than intended; Jacinto hadn't even been in town for a month at this point, so any sign of authority would be welcome.
And now Jacinto was going to have to do it, figuratively speaking, without dress rehearsal.
The first test came fairly quickly: the Spanish sent twenty men to bring in Jacinto and bring the village to heel. Jacinto and the Maya swiftly defeated this force, to the Spanish's undoubted surprise: this was the first major Maya uprising in decades.
"The gods are born when men die."
Sadly, Jacinto Canek and the Maya who followed him did not manage to succeed in their quest to overthrow Spanish tyranny. Despite gathering an impressive 1500 fighters on the shortest possible notice, Jacinto Canek lost his next battle against the Spanish due to their superior artillery. Jacinto Canek was captured, tortured, and then drawn and quartered. There is an extremely graphic mural of this process in Yucatán governor's palace to this day, as a matter of fact. The Spanish set about smearing Jacinto's name as a drunkard, a buffoon, and brute, and destroying any Maya records (or Maya people) involved in the rebellion.
The rebellion that Jacinto had believed in and countless Maya died during had lasted less than a month, but it created shockwaves that Jacinto couldn't have possibly imagined and would inspire countless others to the cause of liberation. To quote from Molly Tun's paper again:
Jacinto Canek's uprising set the stage for the largest of indigenous rebellions, known as the Caste War (1847-1901), in which the Maya natives defended their autonomy from elites of European descent. The Maya rebels from different centers around the peninsula were united in their fight by a green cross (or speaking/talking cross) that was a symbol that legitimized their struggle. This conflict arose, in part, from the loss of communal and patrimonial indigenous land, the privatization of resources, the expansion of haciendas, and the deterioration of Maya village organization and cacique authority."
"During the Caste War, nearly a century after the 1761 rebellion, Jacinto Canek's name was raised as a battle cry as well as "written on house walls as a revolutionary slogan."
"This association between Caste War efforts and Jacinto Canek is so strong that many believe and remember him as a hero of the Caste War. The Mexican revolution also re-appropriated the noble deeds of indigenous rebels like Jacinto Canek, this time to reinsert them in the national history. The 1974 movement of popular resistance and unionization in Merida also used the symbol of Canek in their efforts."
In the 20th century, besides the aforementioned resurrection by the Mexican Revolution, Jacinto Canek lives on in literature. The 1940 novel Canek, by Ermilio Erbreu Gomez, follows a fictionalized account of Jacinto's life, following traditional Maya storytelling and structures rather than Spanish ones.
The echoing impacts of Jacinto's life are reflected in his deck with Constellation and similar abilities, which let his enchantments have effects far beyond their own. Just as Jacinto's story inspired the Maya rebels in the Caste War,, , and assemble an army, and and strengthen them to take over the game. And of course all the classic enchantress effects, like and , are here as well to keep cards flowing.
Jacinto Canek's full decklist is below!
Jacinto Canek's EDH DeckView on Archidekt
- It's worth noting that the Mexica had a lot of neighbors who didn't wish them well, most notably the Tlaxcalans, who provided the majority of the infantry for the Conquest by siding with the Spanish as a way of getting their own back. The point is that the commonly reheated and warmed-over point that "under a thousand Spaniards overthrew an empire" is so much bullshit. Bernal Diaz, a former conquistador, mentioned this repeatedly in his history of the conquest, pushing against the worship of Cortez as some sort of divine figure.
- Inga Clendinnen, in her book Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in the Yucatán, adds that the Itza were originally of Toltec origin and set up shop in the Yucatán around 300 years before the Conquest, making them relative newbies on the scene.
- This is the same Merida that later produced a notably durable revolutionary in the 20th century, Wenceslao Moguel, who during his time with the army of Pancho Villa, survived a firing squad. Yes, you read that right. Around ten bullets to the body and a pistol shot up close to the head. He understandably earned the name of "El Fusilado"--"the shot one". And he survived into the 70s no less. And also Chumbawumba made a song about him.
- As Tun noted, Maya revolutions can be classed as one of two types: pluralistic and more horizontalist--a good example in the modern age is that of the Zapatistas or EZLN of Chiapas, which contain a strong Maya and indigenous worldview and population. The other Maya revolutionary tradition against the Spanish was a lot more focused on the nobility and is more top-down, which was at the time more associated with the Itza; it is this type that Jacinto Canek employed.